College Essay Presentation by Mrs. Kelsey of WHS

The College
A Brief
Lynne Kelsey
English Department
Westlake High School
The Process
 “How
to write a college essay” is a topic that
can’t be summed up in 30 minutes. However,
the advice that would apply to any serious
school assignment also applies:
Start early
Focus your writing on the question being asked, not
the question you would like to answer
Revision is more than just correcting spelling
mistakes; it is “to see again”
 That
being said, let’s discuss the Top Ten Things
to remember when approaching your essay.
#1—Do You Need One?
 The
University of California requires a Personal
Statement as part of the application. The
California State University does not; nor do
California Community Colleges.
 Schools that use the Common Application, such
as Pepperdine and CLU, require a Personal
Essay. Students have a choice of prompts.
 Whether or not your school requires an essay,
your senior English teacher probably will!
#2—Write About YOU
the prompt may ask something
like, "Indicate a person who has had a
significant influence on you, and
describe that influence," don't fall into
the trap of simply writing a profile of
your grandfather. Focus on his impact
or influence on you - that's what
admission counselors want to read
#3—Avoid the Cliché Essay
 The
Big Game, the Mountaintop Epiphany, or the
Community Service Insight are valid and
significant events for many students, but they
can become cliché. Use caution and
concentrate on vivid examples.
Okay: "I want to help people. I have gotten so much out of
life through the love and guidance of my family, I feel that
many individuals have not been as fortunate; therefore, I
would like to expand the lives of others."
Better: "My Mom and Dad stood on plenty of sidelines 'til
their shoes filled with water or their fingers turned white or
somebody's golden retriever signed his name on their coats
in mud. I think that kind of commitment is what I'd like to
bring to working with fourth-graders."
#4—Show, Don’t Tell
 Develop
your main idea with vivid and specific
facts, events, quotations, examples, and
reasons. There's a big difference between
simply stating a point of view and letting an
idea unfold in the details:
Okay: "I like to be surrounded by people with a
variety of backgrounds and interests"
Better: "During that night, I sang the theme song
from Casablanca with a baseball coach who thinks
he's Bogie, discussed Marxism with a little old lady,
and heard more than I ever wanted to know about
some woman's gall bladder operation."
#5—Yes, They Count!
 Even
though this is a personal essay, it
is a formal piece of writing. Spelling,
grammar, capitalization—they all count.
 In addition to learning about you,
colleges use the application essay as a
way to learn about your writing ability—
an important consideration not matter
what your intended major.
#6—Clean Up Your Act!
 In
a survey of over 400 college admissions
officers, at least 10% said they routinely check
students’ social networking pages. The
impression was not always favorable.
Immediately take down any suggestive photos;
unsubscribe to any groups that promote illegal (or
even questionable) activity. Make sure your profile
picture is appropriate.
 Similarly,
register for an email that follows a
simple format like your first and last names,
with numbers as needed. Do not apply to
college using “soccerhottie” or “so_stoned”
#7—Know Your Deadlines
 The
application window for the University of
California opens in mid-October; submissions
are made from November 1-30. Your Personal
Statement should be finished—revised,
proofread, and polished—well before that. Do
all of your writing and editing in a word
processing program; you just want to be able to
cut and paste it into the application.
 Closing dates for other universities vary;
however, early decision deadlines will be as
early as mid-November.
#8—If it Helps, Consult a Book
are dozens of books available
about writing the college essay. They
tend to fall into two categories:
 Workbooks
that take the student through
a series of writing exercises
 Collections of exemplary essays that
usually include a brief analysis of what
makes each example successful
#9—Explore the Internet
there are dozens of
websites that discuss writing the
college essay, including:
#10—Put in the Time
 Competition
at selective schools is getting
harder every year. Writing a college essay is not
a “once and done” effort. There’s no getting
around it—writing a good essay is WORK!
 Even if you plan to go to a school that does not
require an essay in their application, putting in
the time to do a good job will give you an idea
of the level of writing that will be required of
you in college.
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech
which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon
word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than saying something
outright barbarous.
Aiming for Door #1!
While an essay alone won’t get you
into the school of your dreams, an
exemplary essay may make the
difference between you and a
similarly-qualified candidate. Do
your best work!
This presentation and
additional handouts will be
available on the Westlake
High School website under

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